The bottom of the seventh inning of the Class 4A state championship game on Saturday at Route 66 Stadium in Joliet had plenty of drama.
Huntley nearly mounted a title-winning comeback, but sophomore Eben Heine came in and retired two batters to give Plainfield North a 4-3 victory and the school’s first state title in any team sport.
Stadium personnel accidentally set off the celebratory post-game fireworks a pitch too early. Turns out that might have been a lucky break for the Tigers.
“That kind of chilled me out,” Heine said. “It gave me a breather because everyone stopped talking and just watched the fireworks. It just gave me a couple seconds to breathe.”
Heine struck out Huntley’s Zach Model a few seconds later to secure the championship.
“They told me I might go in so I was getting a little nervous,” Heine said. “ It was the biggest game of my life so far. It is unreal that we finally did it and it is unreal that I am part of this as a sophomore.”
Senior Brady Miller, the winning pitcher in the semifinals on Friday, provided the key blast. In the sixth inning he hit the only home run of the state tournament. The solo bomb to right center turned out to be the winning margin.
“[Friday] my at bats were pretty brutal,” Miller said. “I wanted to come out today and help my team any way I could. I got in a good hitters count at three and one and I was sitting on a fastball. I got a good piece of it and drove it. I hit it pretty well but this field is super deep. Anywhere else I would have had a good feeling but here I was iffy.”
Keegan Bates pitched the first two innings for the Tigers (29-7-1) and Nicholas Cerrato pitched four innings to earn the win. He allowed seven hits and two runs.
“I still believe baseball is the hardest [state title] to win,” Plainfield North coach John Darlington said. “Now you have the pitch counts. It would have been great to bring Brady in there at the end but that wasn’t an option.”
Cameron Kissel was 2-for-3 with a run scored and Sean Tillmon was 1-for-2 with a run scored for the Tigers.
Huntley (33-7) scored a run in the third and two runs in the seventh, but could have had much more. The Red Raiders stranded 10 runners on base, at least one in every inning.
“It means a lot [to win the school’s first state title,” Miller said. “I was on the football team and we felt short and two years ago on the baseball team we fell short. So it took three tries but it feels good to finally get one my senior year. This is what you dream of as a kid, playing in the state championship game and helping your team win.”